The Roots Take Over Elm City

Shaunda Holloway | June 7th, 2023

The Roots Take Over Elm City

Citizen Contributions  |  College Street Music Hall  |  Downtown  |  Music  |  Arts & Culture


Shaunda Holloway Photos.

It happened at College Street Music Hall on a warm July night last year. And it will happen again on July 30 this summer. You will experience an evening that stays in your soul and quenches your memory. Here's why you shouldn’t miss it. 

I am talking, of course, about the Roots’ performance in New Haven, which also included acts from Hartford’s DJ Buck and Phat A$tronaut. As the group comes to the city again, here’s a memory of a magical night—that you still have time to attend. 

When I arrived on College Street, the air was thick with anticipation, but concert goers were patient. Excitement ruled the ether, but the mood was calm. We waited patiently. Two years’ worth of social distancing can make you appreciate proximity to other humans. The Roots were here to rock New Haven and we were here for them. 


Shaunda Holloway Photos.

It began with a mixture of pure hip-hop- 80’s and 90’s flavor.  What could be better than The Roots to connect music lovers across age groups, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds? Lights danced back and forth as the deejay spun music Rob Base, KRS One, Slick Rick and many others. 

 As the bass boomed, the crowd swelled until the building filled.  It was as if a chest of lyrics had been opened.  Our lips moved intrinsically “Milk is chillin. Giz is chillin.  What more can I say? Top billin.” A stranger and I rhymed in total sync to Audio Two’s 1998 hit “Top Billing.” 

The lights were low. Flashes of indigo moved throughout the room while the deejay spun one hit after the other. He played everything we loved. We rhymed with the artists. We did so in unison with complete strangers as if College Street Music Hall, with its legacy of legends, was our house and our party. 


Shaunda Holloway Photos.

Sure enough, Haven- based band Phat A$tronaut led us into a melodic opening of “experimental New soul music.” The lead singer, Ym, walked across the stage, mic in hand, sharing their journey to self-acceptance with the crowd.  They sang from the heart, sporting a tank top with fairy wings attached to the back, baggy pants, Bantu Knots. Drums, guitars, and Ym's chill vibe joined forces to create a sound that will not be forgotten. 

I wondered why I had not known of this group prior to the concert.  And I wondered who else was out there.  Phat A$tronaut had done its job.  The crowd was revved and ready to be rocked by the Legendary Roots Crew.  

The Roots are the essence of music. If you don’t know the group, here is a snapshot: In 1987 the lyrical lion Tariq Trotter (a.k.a. Black Thought) and the multi-talented Questlove formed The Roots, which changed the course of hip hop history with its unique sound which incorporated actual live instruments. 


Shaunda Holloway Photos.

The set list consisted of 16 songs, including “The Pros,” “Got My Mind Made Up,” “Soul Makossa,” “Proceed,” “Get Busy/Jungle Boogie,” “You're the One for Me,” “Think Twice/Front Door,” “Change (Makes You Want To Hustle),” “Web/Dance Girl,” “Rock Creek Park,” “Gimme Some More,” “Act Too (Love of My Life),” “You Got Me,” and “Seed.”  

From the get, Trotter  rhymed intelligently at the speed of light. It would be no contest to battle many of today's young rappers.  His delivery of the words he uttered were enough to place opponents into a lyrical coma. 

The bearded Gucci-clad maestro wore dark shades throughout the show.  But his skills were transparent. He sang and rhymed. Where had I been?  The combination of classic tunes such as “You Got Me” and “Think Twice/Front Door melded a musical past with the future. 

From flutes to tubas, instruments were also at the heart of this performance, as they are at the heart of the group. Have you ever seen, for instance, a guitarist stroking cords of lighting while doing so on his back?  Have you ever noticed veins punctuating  skin to verify dedication and commitment to a craft?  


Shaunda Holloway Photos.

After “Captain” Kirk Douglas got up off the floor—still allowing his fingers to communicate in a language we each had never heard— he continued to jump around with his guitar for most of the night.  One had to be an Olympian to be a part of this “Starship Enterprise.”  

If I had to guess, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and Eric Clapton were probably somewhere in the next realm, high fiving each other. So, perhaps, was founding Roots member Malik B., who left in 1999 and died at the age of 47 in 2020s.  They had to be.  This was not just a performance, it was an offering the gods of guitar.

Sam, an enthusiastic fan said, “I don’t know much about 90’s Hip Hop and R&B. I wanted to get the full experience by coming here. We know a couple of songs.”

 It was an excellent choice. The Roots are an initiation into a world of rhyme, meaning and melodies. If it isn’t Questlove’s tingling touch on drum set with its syncopated path leading us into “You Got Me,” or the fury at the end of the night where the sticks tap in a rain of rhythm sending the crowd into a frenzy, or the woman who has received her cell phone back after Quest recording himself with one hand and hitting the set with another—whatever it is, I want more. We all do. 

New Haven knows good music. The likes of B.B. King, Bob Dylan, George Clinton & P-Funk, Run DMC, Fleetwood Mac and more have performed right on College Street under the same structure. It had been called The Palace Theatre in those days. Regardless of the era Elm City embraces it love for music from leaves to The Roots. 

Shaunda Holloway is an artist and writer in New Haven. Follow her work here.